Meet the Innovators Behind Whistler’s Bars - Borrowing from the Classics
By Nikki Bayley / Images By Joern Rohde
Martini. Old Fashioned. Brandy Alexander. Who doesn’t love a classic cocktail? Usually composed of two or three standard ingredients, these time-tested recipes offer a prime opportunity for talented bartenders to put their innovative spin on a drink to create something new from something old. Whether it’s adding bitters, switching up spirits, caramelizing or infusing, get ready to fall in love with these reinvented classics. Meet the Whistler bartenders who love to break the rules, creating their own modern twists for your drinking pleasure. From Chartreuse-infused hard candy crowns to colour-changing martinis, join this creative crew and think outside the box next time you sit at the bar.
CURE LOUNGE & PATIO AT NITA LAKE LODGE
604-966-5700 | nitalakelodge.com
The Cure Lounge & Patio inside Nita Lake Lodge is all about natural beauty and serenity. One of only two bars overlooking a lake in Whistler, the Cure’s views are gorgeous. They offer a relaxed atmosphere with an approachable menu (think flatbreads, burgers and juicy buttermilk fried chicken), with fine dining available at Aura, their sister restaurant. As the season changes, Bar Manager Craig McNair is focussing on creating a cozy atmosphere at his bar thanks to the holy trinity of winter and fall spices: cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
“Winter cocktails for me are all about familiar flavours,” McNair says. “Especially when it’s snowy and cold, guests come off the mountain, and they want to feel warm and cozy inside. I’ve been experimenting with those holiday flavours and have some great things on the menu, such as a pumpkin-spiced Old Fashioned with bourbon, and a dark, fruit cocktail made with black cherry balsamic vinegar syrup and Four Pillars spiced gin from Australia. It goes so well together.”
McNair’s inspiration for his classic-with-a-twist comes from setting himself the challenge of using Fernet Branca — a traditionally herbaceous and bitter spirit — and having it balance beautifully in a winter cocktail. After some trial and error, McNair created the Pisco Alejandro, his take on a Brandy Alexander. “I used Pisco as the base and kept the elements of heavy cream and the crème de cacao, but pulled it together with the Fernet, added some Kensington bitters and topped it with freshly grated nutmeg, which just screams holidays to me!”
THE RAVEN ROOM
604-962-0311 | theravenroom.ca
“I love to play around with the classics. I don’t believe in the idea that you don’t touch perfection,” declares Rhiannon Csordas of The Raven Room. “I think amazing things come when you know the build of a classic drink and want to be adventurous … when you take that classic and make it your own. It’s a fantastic way to learn and get creative.”
Since opening earlier this year, The Raven Room has become a hot spot for lovers of fine craft drinks and a food menu created from locally sourced ingredients. Owned and operated by locals, it’s a favourite post-shift destination for industry locals to come and talk shop over delicious cocktails. “We get so many guests from word-of-mouth recommendations,” says Rhiannon. “It’s like, six, seven times in a shift when I’m talking at the bar, people tell me that bartenders in other bars and restaurants recommend us as the place you just have to come. We knew we were doing something right in the community.”
Riffing on the modern classic Paper Plane, Csordas’s Torched turns the traditional blend of equal parts bourbon, Amaro, Aperol and lemon juice into a bruléed sour by adding egg white, demerara sugar syrup and a few drops of Bittered Sling’s Lem Marrakech. The magic comes thanks to a sprinkle of sugar on that foamy top that’s torched with a brulée gun to add a more complex texture and heavenly burnt-sugar aroma. “I think the Paper Plane is a beautiful cocktail. I started to make the drink by adding spiced bitters for guests when they wanted something for after dinner and they loved it,” Csordas says. “I kept playing around, and eventually, it became a sour with a bruléed topping. I think it brings out a rich, sweet element that works so well with this drink.”
604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com
“We’ve got a motto here at the Bearfoot: We don’t say ‘no.’ We will always do our best to accommodate what our guests want,” says Bartender Joe Casson. “We cover so many bases, from our awesome wine cellar and fantastic cocktails to grappa, port and vodka, and of course, spectacular fine dining; but we’re known for being fun and approachable.” And what could be more fun than a mischievous twist on that elegant classic, the Champagne Cocktail? Inspiration here for British-born bartender Joe comes from the Queen: “I heard that she drinks Champagne with Cognac and Chartreuse, so I decided to bring all that together to create our ‘Champagne Dysmorphia,’ a cocktail within a cocktail, within a cocktail!” Replacing the traditional Angostura bitters-soaked sugar cube with a house-made Sazerac sugar cube, in the shape of a bear, layers up an impressive depth of flavour while it fizzes away elegantly in a flute of Moët & Chandon. But, in typical Bearfoot style, pretty isn’t enough — not when it could be spectacular. That’s why this cocktail comes with its very own Chartreuse-infused hard candy crown.
Musing on putting his personal spin on classic cocktails, Joe says, “I like to think of each recipe as a melody — what ingredients you use, how you approach the drink. That’s choosing your instruments. You can pay homage to the tune but use your own style. When it comes to classics, I think once you know them, you get to have the fun of ripping them apart and then putting them back together again.”
MALLARD LOUNGE AND TERRACE AT FAIRMONT CHATEAU WHISTLER
604-938-8000 | fairmont.com/whistler/dining
“Sure, we have the classics, but if we didn’t put a tweak of ourselves into cocktail recipes, bar culture would only have about 30 drinks instead of thousands,” Maxime Lambert, the Mallard Lounge’s bar manager, says with a chuckle. “Plus, there’s something special about delivering a drink to one of our guests that was invented right here.” “Right here” at the Mallard Lounge (just off the welcoming lobby of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler) is probably one of the coziest spots in Whistler, especially throughout the winter season thanks to roaring fires, comfy sofas and homey armchairs. “You can’t help loving this lounge,” says Maxime. “Live music, 110 different whiskies behind the bar, great food and that feeling that you’re in a rustic chalet … perfect for winter.”
A riff on a gin Martini, Maxime’s Magic Chair creation is made with award-winning Vancouver Island Sheringham Gin, St. Germain Elderflower, Inniskillin ice wine and a touch of theatrics thanks to Spirdust, a powder with impressive qualities that doesn’t alter the taste or texture of the drink. “We dip an Amarena cherry in the Spirdust,” Lambert explains, “and then drop it into the cocktail and swirl it around. It goes from clear to a sparkling silvery and pink drink.” Likely to be an instant Instagram video hit, the Magic Chair gives a glittery shimmer and offers up a sweeter, more floral take on the classic Martini. With a palette of 10 colours to choose from (“Bartender’s choice or you can pick,” Lambert says.), you can drink your way through the rainbow at the Mallard Lounge this season.
SIDECUT MODERN STEAK + BAR AT THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT AND RESIDENCES WHISTLER
604-966-5280 | sidecutwhistler.com
Turning the Tide
When is an Old Fashioned bang up to date? When Sidecut Bartender Rory Baker puts his molecular mixology spin on it to create Turning the Tide, a modern variation on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail. Infusing Cognac and bourbon with black pepper, cinnamon syrup and orange bitters, and using a little molecular magic to create edible cocktail “pods,” this is a fun trend guaranteed to give you a real wow moment at the bar. Just pop the pod in your mouth, bite down and prepare to be amazed!
“This was my first attempt at molecular mixology,” Baker says. “It was much more of a fine science than I thought, but I got some help from our amazing chefs here at Sidecut who’d used spherification techniques with salad dressings and so on before. They gave me lots of advice and helped me keep out of trouble. But with lots of trial and error, now I’ve got it down to a fine art.”
A fan of drinking Old Fashioneds year-round (“It’s such a simple cocktail with a great history.”), Baker is excited to have guests try his modern take. “I think it’ll be a new experience for a lot of people,” he enthuses. “It might take people by surprise, but they’ll enjoy it!”